The original Iver Johnson Arms and Cycle Works in Fitchburg, Massachusetts was a storied name in the history of inexpensive yet innovative handguns and shotguns (and, for a while, bicycles).

Iver Johnson was particularly known for their compact top-break double-action carry revolvers with the “hammer the hammer” safety mechanism chambered in calibers like .32 and .38 Smith & Wesson. The original Iver Johnson company was in operation from 1871 to 1993.

In 2003, a new Iver Johnson opened its doors in Rockledge, Florida as an importer of 1911 pistols manufactured in the Philippines and shotguns manufactured in Turkey. Both nations build their respective products with a high degree of quality and finish at very low prices. The new Iver Johnson will not service Iver Johnson firearms built prior to 2003.

One of their 1911s I have been working with is the new hard chrome 1911A1 in the classic .38 Super caliber. Before I get to the 1911A1, let me talk for a moment about the .38 Super.

Iver Johnson Arms .38 Super

The .38 Super cartridge has always intrigued me. Introduced in 1929, the .38 Super was the older .38 ACP on steroids, yielding an increase in velocity with a 130-grain FMJ bullet from just under 1100 feet per second to 1250 feet per second.

The .38 Super was one of two handgun cartridges designed primarily for law enforcement. It was designed to defeat the primitive body armor and automobiles being utilized by gangsters of the era at a time when the .38 Special just wasn’t getting it. Until the .357 Magnum came along in 1935, the .38 Super held the title of “the most powerful handgun in the world.” (The other cartridge designed for law enforcement was the .40 Smith & Wesson, which was developed with the help of the FBI and introduced in 1993 as the “ultimate” police duty round.) I don’t count the .38 Special, because Smith & Wesson introduced it to improve upon the abysmal performance of the .38 Long Colt in the Philippine Insurrection and was hoping to obtain a major contract with the military with their new Military and Police revolver. While not adopted as the military’s primary handgun, our nation’s law enforcement forces eventually adopted it in droves.

The .38 Super Iver Johnson 1911A1 is one gorgeous 1911, and one of the smoothest I’ve ever handled. This is due to the fact that the slide, frame and barrel are carbon steel with hard chrome plating. The chrome is beautifully executed and is nothing like the shiny, “el cheapo” chrome plating found on old inexpensive pistols like the Raven .25. This hard chrome job makes the Iver Johnson look like a stainless-steel rig, but with an advantage in smoothness.

Stainless steel on stainless steel galls. Any pistol or revolver built from carbon steel is always smoother operationally than its stainless-steel counterparts. Adding a slick hard chrome finish to a carbon-steel pistol turns the operation of the action glass smooth and is absolutely astounding for a pistol that has an MSRP of only $642! And, hard chrome is less prone to rust than is stainless steel.

Those of you who are 1911 aficionados will appreciate the fact that all Iver Johnson 1911s use the Series 70 operating system, which gives their triggers the crispness that Colts were famous for before they changed to the Series 80 safety system. The trigger is not only great for a $642 1911, it’s great for any 1911.

Iver Johnson Arms 1911A1

The Iver Johnson 1911A1 would truly be a 1911A1 but for three features: the currently favored flat mainspring housing, prominent sights and long trigger. The slide release, thumb safety and grip safety are standard military-style, the hammer spur is flat, the guide rod is military length, the takedown is GI-standard and the rear-only cocking serrations are vertical.


The sights on my sample were plain black, which for works fine for me. I am so glad Iver Johnson didn’t go with hard chromed or stainless-steel sights. The black sights are prominent without interfering with carry, and they stand out nicely! The rear sight is drift-adjustable for windage. The front sight has a hole in it that seems to be for a white-dot sight insert. It is fine plain, but if one wanted to, a small dab of Whiteout could be dropped in the hole for an instant single-dot effect. Novak LoMount sights with Trijicon tritium inserts are available as an option.


The grips on my sample are Black Dymondwood with partial checkering. Black “pearl” grips are available as an option. The magazine well features slight beveling to assist with reloading.


Weight of the .38 Super 1911A1 is 43 ounces. The .45 ACP version comes in at 41 ounces. The weight difference is due to the fact that while both barrels are of the same diameter, the smaller .38-caliber chambering leaves more steel in the barrel than a .45-caliber hole does.

Testing at the Shooting Range

I tested the Iver Johnson 1911A1 on three different occasions. On the first go around, I used some .38 Super Bill Wilson Signature Match ammo to break it in.

Loaded with a 125-grain Hornady Action Pistol bullet to a velocity of 1100 feet per second, the Wilson Combat load in the Iver Johnson 1911A1 was a smooth, low-recoiling joy to shoot. However, at 1100 feet per second, the .38 Super duplicates the ballistics of most 9mm rounds. I had a few early failures to feed that smoothed out a bit after more shooting. I believe these malfunctions were caused by the lower-than-standard velocity. But accuracy was superb, and even at 50 yards, it was easy to make plate-sized groups. I looked forward to further testing with the “full-power” .38 Super ammunition that was en route to me from SIG Sauer.

Even though SIG no longer carries a .38 Super caliber pistol, they have just added two .38 Super loads to their ammo line: a 125-grain FMJ Elite Ball practice load and a 125-grain Elite V-Crown defensive load.

Both these loads bring out more of the potential of the .38 Super and are loaded to a velocity of 1230 feet per second with 430 FPE at the muzzle. The difference between these loads and the Wilson Combat Signature Match ammo was noticeable. The SIG loads had a little more recoil, but were still quite controllable. However, I was fully aware I was shooting a round with more oomph than a 9mm. Cycling was perfect.

My third outing with the Iver Johnson 1911A1 was at our annual police firearms qualification. Our course of fire is 50 rounds, and the slick-shooting Iver Johnson passed with flawless flying colors. I really like the Dymondwood grips; they fit my hand like a glove and the checkering is in all the right places. I would, however, like to replace the flat mainspring housing with a curved one for the “perfect” 1911A1 feel.

Conclusions on the Iver Johnson 1911A1

The Iver Johnson 1911A1 is an outstanding pistol. While it does use some MIM parts in certain places, I really don’t find that an issue, as I don’t really have a problem with properly manufactured MIM parts. Maybe if I was going to fire thousands and thousands of rounds through it in completion I might, but I don’t plan on doing that.

I really love the Iver Johnson 1911A1, and was actually surprised I would like it this much due to the low price. It is a great choice for home defense, concealed carry, the trail and recreational shooting. It looks like the new Iver Johnson has taken up where the original one left off — providing reliable, quality firearms at affordable prices.

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